"...but try the spirits whether they are of God..." (1 Jno. 4:1)


Volume Four, Number Four Winter 1996

OBSCENITY STATUTES

Jerry D. McDonald

Not long ago I received a package of material which was soliciting subscriptions for the humanist publication Free Inquiry, a magazine published by CODESH (Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism), and which is probably one of the largest humanist organizations extant. The material published is for the promulgation of secular humanism. The heading on the envelope caught my eye, so I opened it up. The heading was:

FUTURE SHOCK!

It's April 27, 2003. 10:30 p.m.

It's 12:01 a.m. tonight, less than two hours from now, a 30 year old woman will be put to death by lethal injection for the crime of abortion.

She'll be the first. But not the last. No fewer than 37 women inmates across America are awaiting a similar fate. Fundamentalist groups everywhere are rejoicing over their hardwon victory.

Why it could happen. Why it will happen. Why you can't afford to let it happen. What you can do about it NOW.

Inside was a subscription application along with the article from the future. However, there was also a letter from the Executive Editor to the prospect:

Dear Concerned American

Just recently, a California couple was convicted on eleven felony charges. They both face up to 55 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines. The crime? Placing a sexually explicit image on their computer bulletin board system, which a state prosecutor in highly conservative Tennessee, over fifteen hundred miles away, then downloaded over the phone lines onto his computer and used as the basis for a Federal indictment alleging "obscenity" violations....

Obscenity statutes arise out of, and are meant to impose, the JudaeoChristian tradition-a fact that is all too easily obscured by the surface appeals to defending public decency, discouraging promiscuity, upholding the dignity of women, and preventing the corruption of young minds....

Now, I have been telling the church for years that humanists are working hard to overthrow everything that's decent in our great country, and I believe that this package is proof of what I have been saying.

Not long ago Farrell Till argued, in debate with Lindell Mitchell, that atheists (secular humanists) are very moral people who do not need the Bible to tell them how to live. Brother Mitchell had given Till a scenario of what he could do to him, if there was no objective moral standard, and Till's response was:

...As I read this, I wondered just how Mitchell expects to convince rational thinkers that his position on morality is superior to mine. I don't even believe that objective (absolute) morality exists, yet I would never even consider doing any of those things to him. So I have to wonder why, if he should suddenly realize that objective morality does not exist, he would want to do them to me. Is he saying that he needs some spookinthesky to restrain him from torturing and killing his fellow man?...

So what is it with these fundamentialist preachers who envision total moral chaos in a world that doesn't believe in absolute morality? I have established many friendship and associations with atheists and skeptics, most of whom do not believe in absolute morality, yet none of them has ever said, "Well, we don't believe in a standard of absolute morality, so why don't we find a preacher, beat him up? It would be fun to inflict multiple contusions and lacerations to his head and then spoil his goods, kill his children, ravage his wife, and torture him mercilessly.' I can assure all absolute moralists that a suggestion like this would not be favorably received in a gathering of skeptics and atheists. Anyone making such a suggestion would be urged to seek professional help" (The Skeptical Review, Spring, 1994, pp.4,9).

Although nothing was said in the material from CODESH about torturing people (except it upholds abortion), morality is morality. In TSR, Till says that no gathering of atheists or skeptics would favorably receive a suggestion to commit violent acts. However, the material from CODESH was in favor of breaking obscenity statutes because they, "arise out of, and are meant to impose, the JudaeoChristian tradition." So what is the difference? Is it wrong to advocate torture, but right to advocate breaking of obscenity statutes?

Till isn't the only one who contends that atheists live moral upright lives. In our written debate on the Existence of God, Ernie Brennaman stated: "The fact is most, if not all atheists live upright lives" (The McDonaldBrennaman Debate, Brennaman's First Affirmative, p.1). There is no way to misunderstand that statement. So we can clearly see that Till and Brennaman, both, believe that atheism is a proper moral standard for men to follow. However, the material sent from Free Inquirer complained because a couple in California was being prosecuted for, "placing a sexually explicit image on their computer bulletin board," as if the prosecution had committed some terrible crime against this couple's rights.

Well, didn't the material say that our present, "(o)bscenity statutes arise out of, and are meant to impose, the JudaeoChristian tradition" which they believe are wrong from top to bottom? So, the whole thing in a nutshell is that the statements by Till and Brennaman are wrong. According to this material, atheists and skeptics do not all live upright lives, least ways, not according to what the Bible would call upright, or according to what is decent and good.

Isaiah pronounced a woe upon those, "that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isa. 5:20). Isn't that exactly what this material does? Doesn't it complain because of the good that was done by the prosecutor from Tennessee (by obtaining a Federal Indictment upon the couple from California for placing a sexually explicit image on their computer bulletin board) and call that good evil? Doesn't it imply that the placing of the sexually explicit image on the bulletin board is actually good? I wonder how that sits with Till and Brennaman? Will they uphold this material as good, or will they call it evil? If they uphold it as good, then their statements are false. If they uphold it as evil, then they will be at odds with one of the world's largest humanist organizations. What will they do? Knowing both of those men, I don't think I would be out of line by saying that they probably won't even bother to take a position.

Putting Till and Brennaman aside, let's examine this material's accusation that "obscenity statutes arise out of, and are meant to impose, the JudaeoChristian tradition."

  • (1) Why is it wrong to enforce obscenity statutes? Isn't it immoral, to any decent minded person, to exhibit sexually explicit images for all to see? If not, why not? God made sex for enjoyment between men and women who are married to each other. Didn't God tell Eve, "thy desire shall be to thy husband" (Gen. 3:16)? Didn't Paul tell the church at Corinth, "let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife, due benevolence: and likewise also the wife to the husband" (1 Cor. 7:2,3)? He also made sex for the purpose of procreation: "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28). He, at no time, intended for sex to be used so cheaply: "Marriage is honorable all, and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will punish" (Heb. 13:4). I guess that the critics of the Bible think that since these dictates came from the Bible that they are automatically wrong. Would that mean that God's demands not to murder are wrong as well?
  • (2) Is there anything wrong with defending public decency, discouraging promiscuity, upholding the dignity of women, and preventing the corruption of young minds? I thought that is what we were supposed to be doing. Have we gone so far away from anything that is decent that we now argue that it is good to do evil and evil to do good?
  • If we didn't enforce obscenity statutes, the country would not be a decent place to live. We have come too far as it is. Nudity is shown right over the TV airways (NBC's NYPD Blues), which is something that the production company promised it would do before the show was aired. Is that good? In Dallas, Texas one woman was shown complaining because so many in the Dallas area didn't want the series to show nudity, and she said that this was the 90's and that we had come to far to be set back by fundamentalists. Is it wrong to contend for moral decency?

    Well, if we can show nudity on TV, then can we walk around in the nude, out in public? If not, why not? If nudity can be shown on TV and on computer bulletin boards, then surely atheists should not complain if people decided to walk around in the nude, out in public. Do they complain about nudist colonies?

    Let's take it one step further. Would it be alright for two consenting adults to have sexual intercourse in public places for all to see? Why not? I mean, it is alright, apparently, to show sexually explicit images on computer bulletin boards, and nudity on TV, and it is alright to have nudist colonies. So why not make it alright to be able to walk around in the nude in public places and even have sex with consenting adults in public places. If there is no objective moral standard, then morality becomes nothing more than a function of the human mind. In other words, whatever the human mind decides is moral is that is moral.

    If placing sexually explicit images on computer bulletin boards is alright, and if showing nudity on TV is alright, and if it is alright to have nudist colonies, then logically the atheist cannot complain about people walking around in the nude or even having sexual relations with a consenting adult in public places if they so desire. Once you open the door, you can't close it. I think that the prosecutor from Tennessee ought to be commended for his actions rather than being upbraided.


    CHALLENGE is published quarterly by Challenge Publications.
    Jerry D. McDonald, Editor; Michael P. Hughes, Associate Editor.


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